Thundering First: A Fortuitous Invitation
“Hey Russ, you wanna come up for a spring turkey hunt?”
You know, the thought never really crossed my mind. I mean, I was only in my third season of deer hunting after a very late start in life. Coming from the inner city, I was just becoming acquainted with my new passion. My first season was a bust although I did learn a lot and got to see some deer up very close. My second season, I was presented with a very nice Mathews bow and attempted my first bow hunt then late muzzleloader hunt. I learned even more and sharpened my skills along with spending more time reading deer sign. On my third season however, I harvested a very nice eight-point buck. Not bad for a novice and my first deer.
So now here I am just outside of Cumberland finishing up the deer season being propositioned with a Spring Turkey Hunt. To my surprise I answered with an enthusiastic yes! With a shake of hands and some parting words I settled into a long drive home dreaming about April and finding myself very excited. As providence would have it, some close friends of mine attended a NWTF Fundraiser Dinner and won a basket of miscellaneous turkey equipment which they already had, so they graciously passed it to me.
Fast forward to April, the day before opening day of the Spring Turkey Hunt, it was very cold and stormy. I remember making it to the top of the mountain in bitter cold and some light snow. Later in the night a front moved in with gale force winds and snow, hail and sleet. At times the wind was howling so loud I wasn’t sure if I’d get any sleep at all. However, opening day dawned bright and clear, I arose to a beautiful morning that began to warm quickly. I walked down the north east pass of the mountain along a trail that ended at a crossroads where I had seen and heard some hens during my January deer hunt. I had a hunch that this would be a fruitful spot and during my decent I heard gobbles further below boosting my confidence. So I set up a blind about twenty yards off the trail for my friend and me.
The next morning, I decided to give the blind a shot as my friend Tom wasn’t due until later in the evening. I had a great field of view and it wasn’t long before the gobbling started. I pulled out my trusty box call and began a few purrs and then some yelps and gobbles of my own. In no time at all I began to hear some rustling in a clearing just behind me. There about ten yards from my blind was a huge hen just sort of scraping and foraging. I pulled out my digital camera and took a few shots and kept my eyes peeled for a tom. The morning wore on to afternoon and being tired I decided to head back to the bunkhouse and call it a day.
That’s when I got the shock of my life! Did you know that wild turkeys can fly? And that they sound like a B-52 bomber? (Be kind, it was my first time, I told you I was a novice) I honestly never knew that fact and that’s why I got busted. He was a huge tom perched high in a tree watching the same hen I was. He saw me come out of the blind and made his escape. I swear he was grinning as he went by. So, a little disappointed but a bit wiser I made the trek up the ridge excited and anxious about my next attempt with a good story to tell my friend when he arrived.
As my friend Tom got settled in I shared with him the events of the day and had a good laugh while he prepared a delicious venison meal. I had learned a lot in the past two days and had found scat, scratchings and could tell where they were roosting and what trails they were following to go up the mountain in the morning and come back down in the evening. We discussed our plans for the morning hunt and sat together talking of “Poems, Prayers & Promises” enjoying the late quiet moments known by all good friends taking in the best God has to offer and the comradery only found by those of us who have experienced hunting camp. So, our bellies full, the dishes done and twilight in our eyes, we settled in for the night dreaming of the day to come.
The crack of dawn soon came and we were excited and as jittery as little kids before Christmas, just knowing it would be a good day. Making our way to the blind we were surprised to find the birds had beaten us to the punch and had us busted, we chose to stick it out anyway to no avail. Unfortunately, the day was a loss but we learned more about this addicting new pursuit and plotted the morrow’s plans as evening approached.
Ok, so let’s try this again, with a “bully” can do attitude, we made our way down the trail to the blind as quiet as church mice. Before dawn on day three, Tom and I had just zipped the blind door when we heard the first few gobbles of the morning a few dozen yards away, below us over the ridge. We both had that deer in the headlights look as we hurried bumbling like the Three Stooges to get into position. The gobbles persisted so I did a little yelping back and got excited by how close and quickly they answered. The suspense was killer as we heard the rustling and vocalizations of what was obviously more than one bird.
As I glanced to the south, my right, Tom gently tapped me and pointed out a few birds coming over the ridge about thirty yards away. With more than one gobbler in the group we had to coordinate our shooting so we could capitalize on this fortuitous situation.
At about ten yards Tom asked if I was ready and with my “yeah,” he began the countdown. Three, two, one, BANG! Perfect harmony… We both fired at exactly the same time and whooped and hollered as we watched two toms hit the ground. In a frenzy to get the blind unzipped, I finally just threw it over and behind us as we ran to our birds. Tom had a gobbler good enough to place on any table.
I was astonished to find my tom had 1 ¼” spurs and a 12” beard. Wow, what a great first turkey! Thanks God! My bird fed many of the homeless and friends at my church on Thanksgiving Day. That was a hunt I hope to always remember and Tom and I laugh heartily every time we recount the events of that awesome day.
As I grow older and hopefully become a wiser hunter, preparing to teach my grandson our passion, I hope to never forget such adventures and share the stories to inspire myself and future generations. My wife is excited about her first hunt with me and I look forward to sharing that special time with her also.